Through hard work, prudent fiscal management, controlled departmental spending and strategic investments, Nova Scotia is moving forward. The province is committed to fiscal sustainability, with a focus on disciplined public spending and responding to the needs of Nova Scotians.
On March 20, I was proud to table the 2018-19 budget. It was the 3rd consecutive balanced budget for our province. The importance of balancing the provincial budget is three fold…it demonstrates the ability of a province to live within its means…ensuring that the revenues of the province exceed the expenses. This is not unlike managing our own personal finances, where one may be tempted to overspend, but fails to recognize this is only a short-term solution. For a province like Nova Scotia that does not have a resource-rich stream of revenue, we must be wise and prudent in our spending. We are only one of two provinces that have been identified as being on a fiscally sustainable path. In fact, our 4 year fiscal plan (2018-2022) is projecting a balanced budget for each of those years.
The second important aspect of a balanced budget is the impact it has on our credit rating. There are times when a province must borrow to invest in infrastructure projects like twinned highways, bridge construction, as well as new schools and hospitals. With our record of good fiscal management, three of the major national bond rating agencies have improved the credit rating of Nova Scotia. In 2013 the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy challenged the province to achieve a Net Debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 30% by 2024. We are on target to achieve that goal.
But the 3rd and most important aspect of a balanced budget is the capacity it gives us to invest in programs and services for Nova Scotians. Our success with improving the fiscal health of the province has allowed us to make increased investments in health care and education. We will continue to work with doctors across the province to support them as they deliver quality care to Nova Scotians.
The Mental Health and Opioid Addiction needs of Nova Scotians, including our youth continue to require increased funding. A total of $300 M is included in this budget to increase and expand services and supports to those in need. This expansion includes rural Nova Scotia. In addition $266 M toward Home Care and Continuing Care will allow seniors to stay in their homes longer, and the Care Giver allowance has been extended to provide financial support for family members who are caring for their loved ones at home.
The Pre-Primary program provides an option for parents of 4-year olds. It is a free, full day play-based program delivered in our schools. Teachers have told us the benefits of such a program better prepare students as they enter Grade Primary. This is an option for all 4-year olds and their parents, regardless of socio economic conditions. For some families, childcare is not financially possible. The Pre-Primary program is free.
The population of our province is the highest it has ever been. For the first time, more young people are staying in Nova Scotia than leaving. The province has made it possible for young graduates to get a job here by providing incentives for businesses to hire them. The Graduate to Opportunity and Innovate to Opportunity programs are designed for that purpose. Over 500 young graduates have been hired through those programs. In addition to getting a job, graduates are often faced with student debt.
The province provides assistance to students upon graduation. All Nova Scotia student loans will be forgiven (don’t have to be paid back). This amount is up to $6 800 per year for 5 years, so for those eligible for the full amount, it is $34 000. That is the amount of debt the student would be no longer required to pay.
These are some of the highlights of the 2018-19 budget. For information on these programs or others, please contact my office at 902-641-2200.
Karen Casey, MLA